Music to their Ears: Deep Learning

The model of inquiry-based or ‘Deep Learning’ underway at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) has --- both in theory and practice --- been a staple in the school’s Music Programme for many years.

Experiencing the history and impact of music through cultural experiences in foreign locales amplifies hands-on learning opportunities for the students involved.

“By taking students out of their comfort zone and bringing them to different environments, we teach the students how music has played an integral role in the world,” says Jamie Oatt, Department Head, Music at SMCS.

For several years, Grade 9 and 10 music classes have travelled each spring to the United States, visiting cities such as New York and Boston, and in 2019, Chicago. Some 50-60 students embarked on a 5-day road trip to explore the history and meaning of music in the ‘Windy City’.

St. Michael’s College School music students from grades 9 and 10 on their way to Chicago, Illinois for their annual music trip, in April 2019.

“While demonstrating the values of St. Michael’s College School, students have the opportunity to visit and perform in some of the biggest cities in North America” says Oatt. “These cities have had long-standing traditions of genres of music such as Jazz as well as many others,” he continues. “Students always have always left with an impactful memory.”

‘Note’-able extracurriculars

It’s not only about the music.

“When we aren’t performing, we take the students on trips to a ball game, usually a Cubs, Red Sox or Mets game,” says Oatt. “On one of the other nights, we organize a Broadway show or visit other tourist attractions such as Times Square, if we’re in New York or the Bean in Chicago.”

Grade 9 & 10 SMCS music students visiting Chicago’s infamous “Bean” on their annual music trip during spring 2019.

The combined exposure and experiences also enable students to establish deeper connections with each other, both within and outside school.

Heard Around the World

By contrast, Grade 11 and 12 music classes take a different route.

They have the opportunity to spend their March Break overseas, visiting some of the most renown  cities in Europe that have helped shape the history of music, including: Verona, Salzburg, Vienna, to name a few.

SMCS music students touring Haydn Hall at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt outside Vienna, earlier this year.

Oatt says the program “wanted to offer our senior music students an opportunity to travel to the birthplace of Western music as we study it in class. Artists such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn spent the majority of their lives in the cities we visit,” he says. “Not to mention experiencing the natural beauty of the Alps of Austria and Italy.”

A group of SMCS music students outside the Vienna State Opera House in March 2019 after seeing the state Ballet company perform Stravinsky's ‘The Rite Of Spring’.

Sights and Sounds

Whether it’s tobogganing down a mountain or visiting the city of Mozart, the students are kept busy maximizing their time and encounters. Evenings typically feature at least one musical dinner complete with live string orchestra and soloists in period costume staged in a Baroque ballroom.

“We visit the royal palaces of the Austrian royal family and the Esterhazy summer palace where Haydn once performed” says Oatt.

And in 2019, a memorable bonus!

“In a stroke of luck, we were able to acquire tickets to a Euro Cup soccer match between Austria and Poland in their national soccer stadium before flying home.”

One of the ‘perks’ of SMCS music trips for Grade 11 and 12 students is experiencing the culture of the cities they visit, like watching a Euro Cup soccer match between Austria and Poland.

In addition to European history, the trips are meant to enhance the student’s understanding of charism (a gift freely given or a grace), community, becoming model citizens and learning the values of the school. Ultimately, a profoundly ‘deep’ learning experience for all --- in music and so much more.

To learn more about the SMCS Music program, click here


Spring Music Concerts take place on Tuesday May 14 (7:30 p.m.), Thursday May 16, 2019 (6:30 & 8 p.m.).  Purchase tickets here!